AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Al-Qaeda issued an Internet claim of responsibility Thursday for three suicide bomb attacks on Western hotels that killed at least 56 people, linking the deadly blasts to the war in Iraq and calling Amman the "backyard garden" for U.S. operations.
Police continued a broad security lockdown and authorities sent DNA samples for testing to identify the attackers.
Land borders were reopened after being closed for nearly 12 hours.
Government spokesman Bassel Tarawneh lowered the death toll by one, citing confusion in the early hours after the blasts. "But we expect the number to rise as some of the injured, at least two, are in serious condition in hospital," he told The Associated Press.
He said the victims included 15 Jordanians, one Saudi, one Palestinian, five Iraqis, three Chinese, one Indonesian and 30 others whose identification has not yet been determined.
A Palestinian official in Jordan reported two top security officials died in the blast. There was no explanation for that discrepancy. Also, an Israeli newspaper listed an Israeli-Arab among the dead.
The nearly simultaneous attacks late Wednesday also wounded more than 115 people, police said. They detained several people overnight, although it was unclear if those being held were of suspects or witnesses.
The al-Qaeda claim, posted on a militant Internet site, said Jordan became a target because it was "a backyard garden for the enemies of the religion, Jews and crusaders…a filthy place for the traitors…and a center for prostitution." The claim could not be independently verified.
The claim of responsibility, signed in the name of the spokesman for Al-Qaeda in Iraq, said the attacks put the United States on notice that the "backyard camp for the crusader army is now in the range of fire of the holy warriors."
Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said the attack should alert Jordan that it needed to stop playing host to former members of Saddam Hussein”s regime.
"I hope that these attacks will wake up the `Jordanian street” to end their sympathy with Saddam”s remnants … who exploit the freedom in this country to have a safe shelter to plot their criminal acts against Iraqis."
He also said Iraqis may have had a hand in the attacks. "I”m not ruling out any participation of Iraqi elements in the Amman attacks because the al-Qaeda organization has become as a plague that affected Iraq and is now transmitted by the same rats to other countries. A lot of Iraqis, especially former inteligence and army officers, joined this criminal cell," Kubba said.
Jordan”s Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher had said shortly after the blasts that al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a "prime suspect." The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi is known for his animosity to the country”s Hashemite monarchy. The claim of responsibility did not name King Abdullah II but twice referred to the "tyrant of Jordan."
In the attacks, the suicide bombers detonated explosives at the Grand Hyatt, Radisson SAS and Days Inn hotels just before 9 p.m. One of the explosions took place inside a hall where 300 guests were celebrating a wedding.
Until late Wednesday, Amman, a comfortable, hilly city of white stone villas and glitzy high-rises, had mostly avoided large-scale attacks and was a welcome sanctuary of stability in a troubled region.
Al-Zarqawi is most known for the string of devastating suicide attacks launched in Iraq, often against U.S. targets but also against Shiite Iraqis. He has shown a flair for propaganda and drawn wide support among militants in the region.
But outside Iraq, and especially in Jordan, he has been equally active. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a Jordanian military court for the October 2002 assassination of a U.S. diplomat, Laurence Foley, in Amman. His group also is accused of previously trying to blow up the Radisson SAS in Amman as part of the so-called Millennium plot in 1999 and of an attack this August on a U.S. Navy ship in the Jordanian port of Aqaba that killed one Jordanian soldier. In Amman, a security official said authorities had tips on suspects who are being hunted down, including possible sleeper cells or individuals who may have assisted the attackers and later fled in a vehicle bearing Iraqi license plates.
The official, insisting on anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the press, said that DNA tests were being carried out to determine the identity of the perpetrators, including two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in two of the separate hotel attacks.
A third suicide attacker used a car to attack the third hotel.
The dead and wounded were mainly Jordanians, said Jordan”s Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muahser. Other victims included three Chinese, all from China”s elite training university, who were visiting the kingdom and four Palestinians, including two top security officials, a senior Palestinian banker and the commercial attache at the Palestinian embassy in Cairo.
Maj. Gen. Bashir Nafeh, the head of military intelligence in the West Bank, and Col. Abed Allun, a high-ranking Preventive Security forces official, were killed in the attack at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Palestinian envoy to Amman, Ambassador Attala Kheri, told The AP in a telephone interview.
Israel”s Foreign Ministry confirmed that an Israeli was killed in the bombings, but had no other details. The Army Radio said that the man was living at one of the hotels, but declined to say which.
The state Jordan Television showed Abdullah inspecting the sites of the blasts after returning home early Thursday, cutting short an official visit to Kazakhstan. He later presided over a meeting of his security chiefs, including police and intelligence.
The hotels, frequented by Israelis and Americans among other foreign guests, have long been on al-Qaeda”s hit list.
The Web site of Israel”s Haaretz daily identified the Israeli victim as Houssam Fathi Muhajne, an Israeli-Arab, and said he was a guest at the Radisson wedding party. The government list did not include an Israeli.
Tarawneh said the number of the injured still in hospitals was 93, including 34 whose identities is yet to be determined. The others included five Germans, one American, one Swiss, one Indonesian, one Chinese and three Iraqis. Others came from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, he added.